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Womens Work: Live At Sweet Rhythm NYC by Judi Silvano

Judi Silvano has always been one to make some interesting, and in some cases perspicacious, choices. Equally as interested in dancing as in singing, she has sometimes combined the two forms for a synthesis of physical and musical movement. One of the intriguing elements of a few of Joe Lovano’s albums has been Silvano’s looping of vocal lines, as if a soprano instrument, throughout the arrangements of Celebrating Sinatra and Rush Hour. And wisely, Silvano helped to reinvigorate interest in Mal Waldron’s work when she and he recorded Riding a Zephyr before he passed. Lately, Silvano has been singing in her own quartet. Fortunately, one of the group’s engagements at Sweet Rhythm Jazz Club was recorded. The result, Women’s Work, brings to light relatively obscure compositions by female performers as a result of Silvano’s continuing uncovering of overlooked, but inspiring, jazz artists and their works.

Not all of Women’s Work includes works by female composers of a generation or two ago, as one would expect. Silvano herself has written two of the songs, "Bougainvillea" and "New Dance." The former is a swaying ballad of unpredictable modulations and tropical imagery that previously appeared only on husband Joe Lovano’s Flights of Fancy album, though in freer form there. "New Dance" presents a chirping, nudging, fanciful exercise in wordless vocal daredevilry as Silvano leaps atop wide intervals, never losing balance or courage. In addition to those two songs, Silvano and her pianist, Janice Friedman, composed "Easy to Love," a swinging, walking-bass-line song that at first appears to be a vehicle for piano trio. Then, Silvano comes in after a minute and a half to apply lyrics to the already established uplifting spirit of the song. It culminates in dramatic fashion as Silvano glides up two octaves and briefly wah-wahs the final note.

Speaking of courage, Silvano is absolutely fearless on Carla Bley’s "Can’t Get My Motor to Start" from Nick Mason’s Fictitious Sports, a rare find that shows Silvano’s unending search for meaningful music appropriate to her projects at hand. Quirky and virtually non-melodic, "Can’t Get My Motor to Start" is a sometimes clattering, always intriguing bit of propulsion built upon a repetitive three-note bass line and rhyming quasi-nonsensical lyrics. To wit: "Try putting beer in the tank. / Bring the beer over here. / ‘Cause I need it to steer." Rather than emphasizing the whimsy of the lyrics, Silvano treats them as a departure point, improvising her own lines and inserting, instead of words, sound-effect vocalizing simulating car gears, tweets and ululations.

When considering Mary Lou Williams’ music, Silvano chose not only the better-known sultry blues, "What’s Your Story Morning Glory." She also selected the obscure call-and-response novelty song, "Pretty Eyed Baby," for which Williams shared songwriting credit with William Johnson and Leo Mosley and which received its most notice on Verve’s Roy and Diz. For the most part, the songs of Women’s Work are light-hearted and imaginative and appear not to be work at all, but instead fanciful works of women.

Still, Silvano offers a somber impressionistic interpretation of Sheila Jordan’s "Ballad for Miles." Her interpretation is more of a shimmering modal description than Jordan’s wondrous reminiscence, backed by Steve Kuhn’s Bill Evans quotes, before Jordan leads into "My Funny Valentine" on Jazz Child. The inclusion of Meredith D’Ambrosio’s "Why Do I Still Dream of You" allows Silvano to craft a gorgeous song of loss and hurt, which stands on its own melodic merits, a perception proven when Friedman takes over to solo with elegance.

The overriding feeling from Women’s Work, though, is joy and fun. No doubt, the audience at Sweet Rhythm felt that they were participants in the spontaneous creation of the music as the members of the Women’s Work Quartet re-imagined the music of female composers, which concisely and artistically described their own lives and interests.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Judi Silvano
  • CD Title: Womens Work: Live At Sweet Rhythm NYC
  • Genre: Jazz Vocals
  • Year Released: 2007
  • Record Label: JSL Records
  • Tracks: Bougainvillea, Pretty Eyed Baby, Inside a Silent Tear, Not to Worry, Why Do I Still Dream of You, New Dance, Easy to Love, What’s Your Story Morning Glory, Ballad for Miles, Can’t Get My Motor to Start, Backwater Blues
  • Musicians: Judi Silvano (vocals), Janice Friedman (piano), Jennifer Vincent (bass), Allison Miller (drums)
  • Rating: Three Stars
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